Pumpkin Plant Tips – How to Grow a Pumpkin

There is no fall without pumpkins – large kinds, mini kinds, orange kinds, white kinds, carved kinds, and most importantly pie kinds. While you can load a wagon into the local pumpkin patch, start a new fall tradition by growing squash in your own backyard. These hardy crops will bloom just about anywhere with the right care.

Get the complete step-by-step guide to growing pumpkins – and all your most pressing questions answered – below, with insights from Rosie Lerner, Horticultural Extension Specialist at Purdue University.

The potting shed - Packet of seeds and pots

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1. Pick your pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkins come in hundreds of varieties that differ in size, color, taste and texture, so no particular type can claim the title of “best.” From hot air balloon giants to tiny gourds, there is a variety for you. Check out some seeds available for ordering online below:

2. Plant the seeds in a location with full sun.

Pick a day after the last frost to sow the seeds directly into the ground. Each packet of seeds will indicate how long on average the plant needs to produce fully growing pumpkins (“Days for Maturity”). For example, small sugar pumpkins need 100 days to reach maturity. If you wanted them to ripen about a week before Halloween, plan to plant them in mid-July.

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Select a location in full sun and hope for the seeds according to the recommendations provided on the package. Pumpkin vines can spread quite far, although there are “bush” varieties that grow in a more compact form.

If you’re feeling ambitious, plant the seeds in pumpkin “hills” – mounds of earth slightly raised from the ground. “Hills tend to heat up faster and they drain water faster than just planting them flat on the ground,” Lerner explains. “This makes the plant go up and allows the long vines to cascade down a bit.”

Blooming yellow pumpkin flower

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3. Water and take care of your pumpkin plants.

Most vegetable crops need a deep but gentle soak once a week – about an inch of water at a time. Adjust for precipitation accordingly. Note: Pumpkin leaves can appear withered in the afternoon heat, even if the soil is still wet. Resist the temptation to water the dirt even more if the foliage stands up in the evening or under cloudy cover, as overwatering can contribute to root rot. Mulching your beds will help keep pumpkin plants hydrated more regularly and tamp down weeds.

Usually, you don’t need to prune your vines. The large leaves help them produce more carbohydrates, which means more pumpkins. Some people will reduce their plants to one or two fruits each in order to grow giant pumpkins, but everyday gardeners can skip this step.

4. Fertilize the soil as needed.

Pumpkins are big eaters. Using a versatile vegetable garden fertilizer (not designed for lawns) can provide them with the good nourishment they need. It is also a good idea to test your soil every two years. The results will reveal the type of dirt you’re dealing with, including pH and nutrient levels – and helps you plan accordingly.

Hands harvesting an orange pumpkin growing on a vine

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5. Harvest your pumpkins.

After several months of growth, your pumpkins will reach maturity when the rinds harden and reach the desired shade. Harvest permanently before a severe frost, which will damage the fruit, advises Burpee. Cut back the vine with pruning shears, leaving several inches of stem attached. Then, enjoy the fruits of your labor – by sculpting, cooking or decorating.

Pumpkin growing faqs

Do you have more questions about growing gourds? Here’s what you need to know.

Can I plant the seeds of a store-bought pumpkin?

You’better to buy seeds from a reputable brand than to save them from a random pumpkin. “It may or may not be harvested when the seeds are fully ripe,” Lerner says. “There’s a good chance it isn’t.”

Even if the seeds germinate, they can produce a different plant if cross-pollinated with another species of squash. Using preserved seeds could be a fun experience, but it’s worth spending a few dollars on approved seeds to reliably grow pumpkins by Halloween.

Can I grow pumpkins in containers?

Yes! The bigger the container, the better. (A half barrel planter might do the trick.) Take care to watch the soil – container gardens will dry out faster than normal flower beds.

What should I put under the growing pumpkins?

Spreading a layer of straw under your developing crop can help protect squash during the hot summer months. “Having some sort of mulch like straw will help reduce evaporative moisture loss from the soil, it will help cool the soil a bit, and it will help keep the pumpkins cleaner,” Lerner says.

How long does it take to grow a pumpkin?

Pumpkins typically take about three months to mature, but this can depend on the variety. Check the seed packet for “days to maturity” to determine when you can expect to harvest your crop.

Is it too late to plant pumpkins?

It depends. Many varieties need at least 100 days to grow squash, which makes July a great time to start planting. But as long as you have enough time before the cold and winter frosts, go for it!

Why are my pumpkin flowers falling?

Pumpkins produce both male and female flowers. (You can tell them apart because the female flowers in the squash family have an ovary – what looks like a tiny mini fruit – just below it.) Male flowers usually open first and drop. Its good! As long as the female flowers are pollinated, you are good to go.

How can I protect my pumpkins from pests?

At the start of the season, cover your plants with floating blankets to protect them from common culprits such as squash bugs, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles. Remove these covers as soon as the flowers develop, because you will need bees to pollinate them! For this same reason, always be careful when using any type of insecticide on your garden. Chemicals can harm these very important creatures and therefore prevent plants from producing pumpkins!

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